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  • by Michael Rickard II

"'Rear Window': How to Turn a Short Story into a 112 Minute Film. Part Three of Four.&q

Here's a final paper I wrote in 2015 on Hitchcock's classic Rear Window.

Another scene relies on visuals to explore "Murder's" themes of voyeurism and neighborliness as well as Rear Window's added theme on relationships. Using the combination of long shots of the neighbors mixed with reaction shots from Jeff that capture his voyeurism, Hitchcock reveals the neighbors' lives interacting with Jeff as he watches Miss Lonelyhearts setting a table for two and dining alone. Is this how Jeff sees his future? He certainly does not see it as Lisa's future. When Jeff notes that Miss Torso (who is entertaining several men) is "queen bee with her pick of the drones", Lisa replies that Miss Torso is doing a woman's hardest job, "juggling wolves". When Jeff observes Miss Torso has picked the best man, Lisa tells him Miss Torso does not love him. When Jeff asks her how she can be so sure, she reminds him that she said Miss Torso's apartment reminded him of hers. Lisa subtly tells Jeff that she has her fair share of suitors but that she only loves Jeff. There are a surprising number of long shots in the film. Hitchcock uses long shots to keep the audience's view confined to what Jeffries would see from his apartment. This can be somewhat disconcerting as the audience cannot see through blinds and much of the action is limited to what can be seen through the neighbors' windows. Hitchcock maintains this effect by providing closer shots (still long shots) when Jeff uses his binoculars and zoom lens, showing that there is only so much that can be seen. It also raises the question of how much Jeff can learn with a limited view. Hitchcock departs from the longshots on a few rare occasions. This is used to draw our attention to the neighbors and to show them stepping out of their individual comfort zones and taking notice of the world outside their windows. For example, the film's climactic scene with Thorwald battling Jeff includes close-ups of the neighbor's as they watch the battle going on. Hitchcock uses many long takes in the film. Like the long shots, this simulates the effect of Jeff looking out at his window at his neighbors as well as a sense of his boredom. When Hitchcock uses quick cuts, this has the effect of showing us that something important is happening. For example, in the scene where Miss Lonelyhearts is contemplating suicide, we see quick cuts of her followed by reaction shots of Stella and Jeff. We then see a shot of the Composer's apartment where he's playing music. A bit of dialogue reveals that Miss Lonelyhearts has stopped her suicide attempt thanks to the music she's heard. Here, the dialogue is necessary to ensure that the audience makes this connection. Later on, Hitchcock again employs quick crosscuts between Jeff in his apartment and Lisa in Thorwald's apartment as she searches it, unaware that Thorwald is returning. This builds suspense as we wonder how she will escape Thorwald. We see quick cuts as Lisa tries to escape including a close-up of Jeff and Stella's panicked facial expressions as they helplessly watch Lisa's predicament. The ultimate use of quick cuts is during Jeff's battle with Lars Thorwald. Hitchcock uses a number of quick cuts and close-ups to show the intensity of the battle. The fight between Thorwald and Jeff features a lot of close-ups and medium shots. There are frequent cuts as we see close-ups of Jeff's face, close-ups of Thorwald standing over him, and long shots of Doyle and Lisa entering Thorwald's apartment. Then in a rare use of close-ups of the neighbors, we see shots of the neighbors as they watch the fracas between Thorwald and Jeff. Hitchcock speeds up the camera speed slightly, heightening the sense of urgency in the film's climax, The film ends with a reprise of the opening scene. The camera pans around the apartment building, showing us the resolution to all of the neighbor's subplots. The Composer has a prospective hit on his hand with his new record as well as a romance from Miss Lonelyhearts. Miss Torso turns out to be Mrs. Torso as her army husband returns home. The Old Married Couple have a new dog and the honeymoon is over for the Newlyweds as they fight about the husband being unemployed. The Sculptor has finally finished her project. Last, we see Jeff in his chair, with both legs in casts. Lisa lays nearby reading a travel book. When she sees Jeff is asleep, she returns to a fashion magazine, showing she can adapt to either world. The film ends with the blinds being lowered. Hitchcock also uses photographic images to show symbols related to the film's themes. Many of them are Jeff's photographic tools such as his camera, his binoculars, and his flashbulbs. When Jeffries flashes the flashbulbs in Thorwald's eyes, it is symbolic since Jeffries' continues to keep Thorwald in the dark about what he knows of the murder.

In some ways, Jeffries' role as a photographer is a reflection on Hitchcock the director. If nothing else, it is about the audience as voyeur. As Falwell comments:

There are visual correspondences between Jeff's situation and a movie director's just as there are between Jeff and the filmgoer. Jeff is a photographer who has broken his leg on assignment and has taken to peeping on his neighbors, first through binoculars, and then as his interest intensifies, through the telephoto lens of his camera. Like a director, Jeff sits behind his camera, weaving fantasies with the people on the other end of the lens. Since the camera moves so often with Jeff's point of view, especially viewing the people across the way, Jeff's eye is often the director's also. By making Jeff an invalid, Hitchcock has struck on a visual correspondence to the director on his set, sitting in his chair, behind the camera, while others dance, strut, and act before the camera-the static progenitor of a world of color and activity. Like a director, Jeff can dream but he cannot do, and it's hard not to see a correspondence between the dull pajamas Jeff wears throughout the film as Lisa parades around in him in a panoply of colors to the staid suits Hitchcock wore as he sat placidly before scenes of unparalleled romance and passion (88).

Not only is Jeff trapped but the audience is trapped too. Like Jeff, the audience can only watch as events unfold before them.

The wedding ring that Lisa steals from Thorwald's apartment also serves as an important symbol in the film. As Donald Spoto notes, "…she slips on the ring not only to prove their suspicions about the fate of Mrs. Thorwald but also as a kind of proposal for Jeff" (221). The wedding ring is more than just the evidence that damns Thorwald for his wife's murder; it is also a dual symbol of Lisa's competence and her continued desire to marry Jeff. Although Hitchcock relies heavily on photographic images in his films, it would be a mistake to believe that he does not utilize the other elements of cinema. For example, Hitchcock uses dialogue in Rear Window to help tell the story. Jeff's "insurance company nurse" Stella dispenses homespun wisdom that helps further the film's exploration of its themes. She tells Jeff that neighbors need to get out more, reinforcing the theme that people are no longer neighbors. Stella also foreshadows the danger Jeff will face. She warns him that his voyeuristic tendencies will lead to trouble. Stella serves as a sounding board for Jeff and as a way to establish his troubled relationship with the "perfect" Lisa without unnecessary scenes. "I'm looking for a woman who is willing to do anything and go anywhere and love it" Jeff tells Stella. Jeff does not think that Lisa meets her requirements but he will be proven wrong by the film's end. Lisa's first scene with Jeff and their dialogue shows their cultural differences. Jeff asks Lisa about the beautiful dress she is wearing and is shocked when she tells him it costs $1100. She says she loves it and when Jeff points out that she'd only wear it once, she replies that that's her job. Another example of how dialogue is used is the scene where Lisa tells Jeff she is going to replace his worn-out cigarette case with a silver one engraved with his initials. This shows the class difference between the two. Jeff likes his old case as it was picked up in Shanghai. Lisa wants something better for him. Jeff doesn't want Lisa to get something better for him as he is happy with what he has. This scene and the dialogue shows Jeff and Lisa's difficulty in understanding the different worlds they live in. Hitchcock ignores "Murder's" dialogue but he captures the story's plot and themes in Rear Window with his own dialogue. One of the film's strongest scenes features dialogue (which does not appear in the short story) where the neighbor whose dog has been murdered cries out, "You don't know the meaning of the word neighbors. Neighbors like each other, speak to each other, care if anybody lives or dies! But none of you do!" This added scene ties in with Woolrich's exploration of the theme of neighborliness found in "Murder".

Hitchcock's use of dialogue is often combined with visuals in order to enhance the story. For example, when Jeff spies on Thorwald as he goes through wife's purse, Jeff's dialogue reveals to the audience that Thorwald is making a long distance call. It would have been impossible for Hitchcock to show this to an audience since he uses long shots when he shows Jeff's neighbors and no one could see the numbers Thorwald was dialing. Dialogue is also used to establish backstory in the film. One casual piece of dialogue reveals that Jeff and Doyle were in the war together in aerial combat and that is how Jeff made his reputation as a photojournalist. It also shows the basis for Jeff and Doyle's friendship. Dialogue is used repeatedly to evoke "Murder's" themes of voyeurism and neighborliness. "I'm not much on rear window ethics" Lisa tells Jeff after they've witnessed Miss Lonelyhearts fighting off her would-be lover. "Whatever happened to that old saying, love thy neighbor?" Lisa asks Jeff to which Jeff promises to revive it tomorrow, beginning with Miss Torso. Lisa pulls down the blinds, signifying that the show is over. This proves to be wrong as not long after, a neighbor's scream is heard and there is the revelation that the Old Married Couple's dog has been murdered. We see reaction shots as the neighbors look out of their apartments, suddenly united by the tragedy, all except one-Thorwald. Thorwald's indifference is the clue that reignites Lisa and Jeff's investigation.

Works Cited

Desmond, John M. & Peter Hawkes. Adaptation: Studying Film & Literature. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005. Fawell, John. "Torturing Women and Mocking Men: Hitchcock's Rear Window". The Midwest Quarterly. 44.1 (Autumn 2002). 88. Hirsch, Foster. The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2008. Howe, Lawrence. "Through the Looking Glass: Reflexivity, Reciprocality, and Defenestration in Hitchcock's Rear Window." College Literature, 35.1, Winter 2008. 16-37. Rear Window. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr. Paramount Pictures, 1954. Film.

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